But the way he saved Letran from falling on Tuesday not only spoke volumes on how the 5-foot-7 court general can lead the Knights, it also guaranteed he’ll be hearing his name from the crowd a lot from hereon.
“I wasn’t nervous at all because I wanted to prove something to the Letran community,” said Yu after spearheading his team to a 65-64 win in Game 1 of the NCAA Season 95 men’s basketball best-of-three championship series.
The versatile third-year guard again made the Knights look good after delivering several unselfish plays in the end that put them on the verge of winning a crown that many thought previously unbeaten San Beda would easily claim.
“He’s (Fran) the most improved player this season and it added to his confidence,” said Letran coach Bonnie Tan.
Yu fed Larry Muyang underneath, stole the ball in the next sequence and pulled down the rebound off a Calvin Oftana miss with 1.6 seconds remaining that sealed the victory and ended the 18-game win streak by the Red Lions this season.
“It’s just the first game. Our rebounding was crucial. We were outrebounded in the first half and we simply addressed that problem,” said Tan.
The Red Lions, defending the title for the fourth straight time, came off a 26-day break after sweeping the eliminations, but San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez believes bricked shots, not rustiness, were the cause of their setback.
“We didn’t make our threes in this game,” said Fernandez after the Lions shot 6 of 40 from three-point range.
“But I believe we are capable of bouncing back.” he added.
Successive misses by Oftana, James Canlas and Clint Doliguz at one stretch near the end didn’t help at all, and San Beda’s last stand was when Evan Nelle drove to pull the Lions within a point with 37 seconds left.
The Lions had a chance to secure the opening match of the series but Oftana, the tournament MVP, flubbed an open three in the ensuing possession.
Game 2 of their best-of-three series is scheduled on Friday with the Knights seeking to win their second championship since defeating the Red Lions in 2015.
“Although we have the momentum going into the next game, the series is not yet done. I hope we will not let this one go away,” said Tan.
Justin Sanchez and Rhayyan Amsali wound up with double-double figures as the San Beda Red Cubs downed the Lyceum Junior Pirates, 94-80, and moved within a victory of clinching the juniors title.
Yukien Andrada and Jay Ynot likewise sparkled along with King Alcantara for the Red Cubs, who are seeking redemption after missing the crown the past three seasons.
“It’s a great feeling to win Game 1, but the series is far from over,” said San Beda coach Manu Iñigo, son of former Inquirer sports editor Manolo Iñigo.
Sanchez had 16 points and 14 rebounds while Amsali added 14 points and 14 boards. Ynot, playing his final year for San Beda along with Sanchez and Amsali, fired 16 points while Andrada contributed 14.
The Red Cubs are looking for their 24th NCAA juniors crown overall.
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